Club football Review

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Lone Shark
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Club football Review

Post by Lone Shark » Thu Nov 04, 2004 4:02 am

Ye've all read this on the site - what do the various clubmen think ......

Hardly memorable, seldom surprising, and at times downright average, nonetheless the first steps towards Offaly’s senior football campaign in 2005 were taken this summer as players sought to establish themselves as good consistent performers on the county stage. Úibhfháilí.com and Lone Shark were watching throughout the summer, and though there were clouds, the county scene is not without its silver lining also. Certainly it could reasonably be stated that we have our strongest county champions, at least on paper, for over a decade, and their tough draw notwithstanding, surely Rhode would be better equipped to attack the Leinster club championship than most. Equally, from a county point of view, it’s hardly beneficial for a club with the largest contingent of county players to develop mental gremlins with respect to “choking” on the big day. September 5 in O’Connor Park certainly put paid to that.

However it has to be said that beyond Rhode, the challenge was poor. Gracefield took advantage of a favourable run to the final, albeit well earned after toughing out some good results in Group A, while no other traditionally strong club could be said to be pleased with their year, even moderately so. This Rhode side has both the existing talent and the youth in the pipeline to remain strong for several years to come – it is vital that other clubs rise to meet the challenge. Ferbane’s stranglehold on Offaly football in the 86-93 era coincided with some of the worst county football ever played. Rathnew in Wicklow, Castleblayney in Monaghan, St. Gall’s in Antrim, are all examples of counties struggling under the weight of one dominant club. Only Armagh and Crossmaglen can be said to buck this trend. So come forth contenders in 2005, your county needs you!!

With this in mind, Lone Shark gives his club by club verdict on the summer of 2004.

Group A - Gracefield:
Probably fed up of references to how they got to a “handy” county final. The fact is they beat what was put in front of them, and could justifiably claim to be the second best team in the county this summer. Certainly Lone Shark would not argue the point. Their narrow win over Shamrocks back in April set them up for a big year, and so it transpired. They’ll feel very aggrieved not to have done themselves justice in the final – though it’s reasonable to say that only the margin of the defeat rather than the defeat itself was the result of their poor show. A solid backline will continue to do well in the years to come, but scoring support for O’Neill is needed, and it’s fair to say that Adrian Dunne will struggle against good midfielders as he nears retirement, if indeed he chooses to keep going. Will need lots of new blood to match or improve on this summer in 2005.

County Watch:
Slattery still very much the main man. His fitness, good by intercounty standards, is savage at this level. Can be proud of what he achieved this summer with his club, and with his determination and drive, remains a potential future county captain in the eyes of Lone Shark. Martin Gorman is rangy, fast, but still looks like a good club defender rather than a county one. Niall Slattery would seem a better option for county corner back from here, but both have potential. A lot of development is needed for either of them to be the finished article as of yet though. Ciaran Kiely never really played in Aug/Sep with the same verve he did in the early group games. With the county not short on inexperienced forwards with potential, he may have to wait his turn another while. John O’Neill has been marked out as the next big thing for so long now that you’d almost say his time is passed. However he continues to infuriate Lone Shark as much as he always has. Can wreak havoc on opposition defences, can let games pass him by, with the two games against Brigid’s illustrating this perfectly. His talent is unquestioned, but his ability to deliver against county defences is far from being a given. Deserves his run during the league, but as things stand can only realistically expect a panel spot.

Group A - Clara:
Having won the county title last year, it was unclear whether or not their hunger would be sated. However it could be argued that they would not have won in 2003 without the attacking play and scoring of Thomas Deehan – and this was the situation they found themselves in in 2004. Additional injuries to Marius Stones and Willie Reynolds left them a shadow of the 2003 outfit. However they can claim to be unlucky – another day would have seen them kick a lot less wides than they did against Gracefield in the drawn match, which would have put them into a semi against Brigid’s, and possibly a final. With Deehan maybe getting back to fitness, last year’s upset may have happened again. As it is they’ll look back with satisfaction on a good result ground out against Ferbane, and should come back refreshed and enthusiastic for a good shot at Rhode’s crown in 2005 with what is still a very talented and quite youthful panel.

County Watch:
Scott Brady had a very dominant year at centre back, and was far and away their best performer. Marred his year somewhat with a petulant elbow and subsequent dismissal against Rhode, but will be worthily wearing a county shirt next year if he maintains current form. Only the shirt number, 4 or 6 being the main options, is a matter of debate. Behind him, Kevin Meehan was solid, but his kickouts continue to cause problems, and this would have to be addressed. However Lone Shark would feel that there is more hope for a goalie whose kickout needs work than the goalie whose judgement of a high ball is poor…… Mark Daly had a quieter year than last, but still was consistent. However the grapevine tells us that he’s off to Lucan Sarsfields and county retirement. Joe Quinn will possibly look to settle into his boots at no 9. From being the best player on the park for Offaly against Donegal in February, his year degenerated into a patchwork effort of plugging gaps all over the park. Never really exerted an influence, and will be one of those players to be watched but who will really have to step it up before being considered even for the panel next year. Matt Mitchell had a turbulent year, between not really getting a run for the county and his unfortunate coverage by one local paper. Centre forward seems a more obvious position for him, but still needs to concentrate on the basics a bit more. Apes Kieran McDonald a bit much for a man with considerably more moderate ability than the Crossmolina star. Shaper still looks decent, but being forced to carry the scoring workload by himself this year did not suit him. Got dragged into a scrap in the semi final, and must carry a lot of responsibility for Clara’s low total in that match. Needs to improve a lot to find his way onto an Offaly side rich with young inside forwards. Deehan and Stones did not feature enough this summer to judge their performances, but obviously will be key to any future Clara and possibly even Offaly silverware.

Group A - Shamrocks:
The Rahan side have been knocking on the door for some time now, but one fears that the elusive Dowling Cup will just be a bridge too far. The club continues to split it’s resources as they have been showing a lot of underage promise in hurling in recent years, while the football panel hasn’t had the same injection of young blood. A one point loss to Gracefield followed by a draw with Clara are hardly the results of a club without hope, but while they remain balanced all over the park, they lack the inside penetration that a fast scoring forward gives. Thomas Coughlan’s development will be watched with interest in this regard.

County Watch:
When news broke of Padraig Kelly’s return from the states, it was widely welcomed. However a poor display in Wexford resulted in all the doubts in Lone Shark’s mind resurfacing. Didn’t feature much for his club, but re-emphasised his main selling point by winning the MBNA Cic Fada. However the high ball goals are far too high a price to pay for his good kickouts. Needs to work on this basic to get his place back from McNamara. Barry Mooney is ageing well, and continues to be an intelligent user of possession and retains his fitness. This summer however did nothing to shed the notion that he is a jack of all trades and master of none. One of countless possible centre backs but also possible panellists for the year ahead. Neville Coughlan equally could find himself in any one of a number of positions for the county next year. His reasonable displays at midfield in the red and green this year have to be measured against the paucity of fielding talent in the county. Tireless, tough, fast, but should find himself out the field next year with the inevitable return of Niall Mac to the inside forwards. Shane Cunningham continues to infuriate. A nightmare for any defender to handle, blessed with all the skills, his lack of fitness means he continues to be an “on his day” club player. Offaly can ill afford such potential weapons to waste away. Thomas Coughlan, as you would expect from the family, is well developed for his age and should graduate to a county U-21 next year. Whether he has the long term potential of some of his peers at that age remains to be seen.

Group A - Edenderry:
Offaly is a county of 60,000 people approx, with a little under 2/3 of that in the “football area”. Edenderry’s pick could be estimated at around 15% of the total football pick in the county, and yet they continue to be way off the pace. Next year will see them return to Group C after three defeats out of three, and their underage teams don’t look to be supplying the wherewithal to believe a recovery is likely in the short to medium term. A couple of years ago the Reds were Rhode’s main rivals, and indeed could have been considered to have had the upper hand. Now it is doubtful whether they would get within 15 points of the Village on a dry Aug/Sep day in O’Connor Park. Lone Shark would love to say something positive to end all this. Lone Shark is struggling to think of anything...

County Watch:
In Colin McNamara the ‘Derry do have the form keeper in the county. He seems to be established as the safest pair of hands in the county, and will probably establish this over the league campaign. John Hurst may yet find himself reappearing in a county shirt with possibly the number five most likely, and Cillian Farrell remains far and away their most talented as well as injury prone forward. No others from the club should feature in an Offaly shirt in 2005.

Group B - Rhode:
When a club absolutely dominates the county scene, obliterates all opposition by more than double scores and goes through an entire county campaign without trailing in the second half at any point, it’s very hard find any negatives. Very modern system with a tigerish but mobile defence rather than big and imposing, two outstanding inside forwards dominating the scoring and some impressive foraging and distribution from the middle third, although without any dominant fielder. Their lack of any real power might count against them over the winter. Their excellent scoring and teamwork without the ball could be hard to stop all the same. Should reach a clash with the Dublin champs, probably Kilmacud. After that who knows?

County Watch:
At the start of the summer their dominance of the county panel looked excessive. Now it looks more than justified. From the back – Shane Sullivan handled all that was thrown at him quite well, and never looked under huge pressure. However the absence of any huge opponent suited him. Could come on from this and develop as a county corner back for next year. Brian Darby looked very tough and quick, and will certainly come into the reckoning over the next year or two. Barry Malone was very quiet, and looked like a shadow of his former self – until the final, where he had a lot of influence from centre back. With the county 6 jersey up for grabs next year, he’s one we’ll watch closely, as it’s only fair to allow some time for readjustment following his return from the States. Alan Mac looked very fit, very hungry, but again didn’t dominate as you would hope a county centerfielder should. However very much got the better of Mark Daly in the semi, so can consider a county jersey his to lose. Several years ago the terraces groaned regularly as Roy Malone would win ball, burst with speed past a man, and look like an allstar – before attempting an utterly ill-advised shot usually ending in a wide. Now he still has the ball winning, but nervously looks to pass on responsibility at all times. Understandable with the scoring power ahead of him, but against county defences will need to rediscover his confidence. For the moment looks more like a bench option than a starter. Paschal was one of the few county players who can say they acquitted themselves well in the tricolour this summer. Was low key over the summer, but still looked a class act. Niall Mac on the other hand, is an utter shoo-in for club player of the year. Terrorised every defence he came up against, and his second goal in county final was the goal of a young forward with his confidence and edge back. Made a mockery of the decision to move him out to the half forwards – an inside forward or nothing, and with second season syndrome behind him, will be the main man up front next year. The only negative note, Chino Cole failed to establish himself during the summer, and looks further than ever from making the step up from county U-21.

Group B - Doon:
Surely everyone supporter’s second favourite club by now – their games continue to be among the highlights of the championship season, and their resolution and calm faith in the closing stages of games is something the county side would do well to mimic. In the quarter final against Brigid’s this year the well of last minute goals finally ran dry, but it was fitting they went out to another small village side who won by way of teamwork and good football. Going forward, it’s still hard to envisage them lifting the Dowling cup without massive improvement across the middle third of the pitch, and yet in any given game they will always have every chance due to their teamwork and fine scoring forwards, and will always entertain the crowd while doing so due to the fast movement of the ball and rangy foot passing they employ. No-one would cheer louder than Lone Shark if they were to fulfil their dream, but in the meantime, nothing would serve Offaly football better than if every small rural club in the county were to look to the Doon model to see how to best to improve themselves.

County Watch:
Jimmy Coughlan was the club’s only county panellist in 2004, but arguably the best performer for the county over the summer, as from his introduction against West Meath he took on defences without fear and scored heavily from play and from frees. Thus it continued throughout the summer, as he and Niall Mac vied for player of the year until his elimination. A case could still be made for his winning it due to Niall’s much better supply lines, but Jimmy’s day will come. Great finish under pressure against Ballycumber showed his class, and the main concern has to be avoiding the dreaded second season syndrome. Has the potential to be our main man for the next decade. John Joe O’Leary continued to enthral and terrify in equal measure – his calmness under a dropping ball more than compensated for by the terror of those in the crowd looking on. hype aside, probably worthy of a look. Known by most Offaly fans for his late goal against Kildare in 2000, Donie Ryan has in recent years been playing moderately at best, however this year he stepped up and took a lot more responsibility in the Doon forward line, against both Ballycumber and in particular Tullamore plugging away while the match was going away from his team and keeping them in touch. Others may have grabbed the headlines, but in a county light on half forwards, a second coming of Ryan could be possible. The county U-21’s next year should be well equipped in the forwards with Niall, Jimmy, Deehan and others all still underage. However Trevor Phelan will be another who should feature regularly. Lightning fast, and with a great understanding with Coughlan, he has belied his small stature for a long time now and should continue to do so. Also worthy of a look could be Inky Ryan (Fintan) in the backs. Strong, fast, and a good man marker – while Offaly have no shortage of attacking defenders, Ryan could be a possibility to fill a gap in the full back line with a player who is defensive to the last. Another who deserves a look in the league.

Group B - Tullamore:
Seemed to lose interest after their 12 point beating at the hands of Rhode – which turned out to be the closest anyone got to the county Champions on a dry day. Could and indeed should have put Doon away, but didn’t. With an ageing forward line and no fresh replacements coming through, it’s hard to envisage a Tullamore side contending for Championship honours over the next few years. It’s probably unfair to chastise Edenderry so much for not living up to their size while not castigating Tullamore in equal measure, though the Town are probably suffering in the same way provincial towns are all across Ireland by way of disinterest and distraction among youth. However Portlaoise and Athlone, Roscommon and Kildare town on all sides of us are producing championship contending sides so surely the Blues should be a bit better than they are? With their current Intermediate team having a good year, next year should see a side with more overall balance – however the lack of any spark is still an issue, and looks set to remain so.

County Watch:
John Kenny has indicated county retirement, and to be fair the county game does seem to have left his legs behind – but the class lives on, and he was still far and away the town’s best forward. Perhaps the promise Shane Dooley is showing at minor and intermediate level will show through in the years to come, but for the moment their contribution to Offaly’s forwards will remain at zero. Cathal Daly had what can only be described as an abysmal year by his standards. Looked disinterested against Rhode, was utterly unable to handle Doon breaking past him, and to be honest made a mockery of his selection as county centre back by being unable to man the position at club level. Appears prone to weight gain, and no longer has the explosive burst that made him the finest corner back in Ireland in the late nineties. Needs to improve to hold his position in the Tullamore team, let alone the county panel. Michael Flynn featured on Offaly panels occasionally in recent years, but didn’t look like county material this year either. Looked one paced, and shouldn’t really feature at county level barring improvement. James Keane on the other hand was very much the silver lining for the Town this year. The young dual star worked manfully in tough circumstances, invariably getting moved onto forwards who were on fire and doing damage elsewhere and looks like he’ll be a key player for the U-21’s next year and the seniors in years to come.

Group B - Ballycumber:
Robbed against Doon when they should have had them put away, utterly demolished by Rhode, before succumbing in a meaningless end of season game to Tullamore. It won’t be remembered as a good year for the ‘Cumber, but in what will probably be the weakest Group C yet, they will be strongly fancied to gather momentum in the group stages before having a good run at the knockouts next year. They remain well balanced, with a good half back line and some decent forwards. Another club that deserves nothing but support from neutrals, injuries to Quinn, Guinan and Grennan at various stages of the year robbed them of any opportunity to gather steam. Amalgamation with Tubber would surely be in the county’s interests, but in the meantime, will continue to pose a threat to all opposition.

County Watch:
You would have to say that Colm Quinn’s days in an Offaly shirt seem numbered. Off the pace this year for the county, he failed to show any recovery for his club. Continues to deliver excellent ball into his forwards from midfield, and has one of the finest left feet around, but at club level he gets space and time that wouldn’t be allowed him next summer for the county. A fine player, who unfortunately may not grace our biggest days anymore. Ciarán Grennan suffered some niggly injuries this year, but still looks to have gone back from being the star of Offaly’s junior Leinster success of a few years ago. Looks a good club player and little more. Rory Guinan however seems to have a lot more in him. Relies heavily on speeding past players rather than pure skill, but takes scores well and has youth on his side. May not see much action over the league, but certainly appears to have a county future. Karl Daly was a rock of Ballycumber’s defence this year, and certainly could be one worthy of note. A tough but fair player, he and Brian Halligan were two players on whom Ballycumber will look to build next years title charge. A county spot would be a huge jump in class for these lads, but hardly impossible.

Group C – St. Brigid’s:
The Croghan parish side most definitely got the rub of the green this year in that they lost the top spot in the group and yet still got rewarded with the Doon/Gracefield route to the final rather than the Clara/Rhode one. However Doon was still no easy match, and for a small club, St. Brigid’s of 2004 certainly won Lone Shark’s admiration for their tenacious play, fierce work rate and good style of football. Their drawn semi final will haunt them over the winter as it was one that they could so easily have won with better score taking, but at least the nature of the replay shows that it would probably not have been a case of the better team winning. They’ll struggle to match this years achievements, above all from a stronger group next year, but nonetheless deserve fulsome praise for some fine play this summer.

County Watch:
As we’ve noted already, half forwards are definitely a department with a “help wanted” sign in the window, and one applicant who looks to have the right stuff on his CV is David Egan. Still very slight, and would certainly benefit from a winter of gym work, nonetheless he has taken responsibility for free taking from a young age and looks very much like a natural score taker and a leader. Probably in Lone Shark’s eyes the main find in the county from this summer. James Carroll captained the team this year, and played some fine football from midfield. While he did not dominate games, went toe to toe with Jim Grennan and if not winning the day, won a share of ball and used it well as a rule. With midfield very much vacant and getting old, Carroll could see some county action in the spring. Enda Egan also very much came of age this summer. From centre back he controlled matters for Brigid’s, and looked like an experienced player. Another for whom the step up would be a big ask, but could hold the answer all the same.

Group C – Ferbane/Belmont:
Ferbane will look on this summer as an opportunity missed – however there are those (Lone Shark included) who would suggest that scraping by Clara and then taking on Rhode with Aidan and Mel Keenaghan as well as Paul Rosney unavailable would have been asking for trouble. As it is they can look back on a fine group stage, played with a team finally working together and with purpose, and capable of some traditional Ferbane style direct football. A lot of the team is either nearing the twilight of their playing careers (the Grennans, Shane Ryan, Mel) or still U-21 or as near as, and learning. (Gavin, Lowry, Aidan K). How they handle this changing of the guard will determine whether Ferbane go back to being among the kingpins of the county as they were throughout the last 30 years of the last century, or remain peripheral as they have been of very recent years.

County Watch:
Another year goes by, and for all Mad Mac’s ability, Jim Grennan remains head and shoulders (often literally) above all his rivals in terms of basic midfield play. Still the best fielder in the county by a mile, and never loses possession, while popping up for more scores than you’d expect for a player of his style. However both shoulders have taken a lot of abuse down the years, so the end of his county career could be close at hand. However this year will have shown him that he’s still able for it, and so will hopefully encourage him to go for one last push. Paul Rosney, his midfield partner, also had a very strong year, and also gives the team good high fielding and support play. Could be another potential 8 or 9 for the year ahead. Colm Gavin in the long term will be looking to fill Grennan’s substantial boots, and continues to develop. Still a lot of power development to be done, but should hold his place on the county U-21’s next summer, and in 2 or 3 years may make the grade. Thinking much longer term ahead again, as the summer wore on Gerry Grehan made his first championship appearances in the full back line. With two more full summers of minor football to go for this young tyro Offaly fans and Lone Shark will be watching him develop with interest.

Group C – Shannonbridge:
The Roscommon border outfit continue to believe greatly in themselves – though most others have long given up by now. Still as dogged as ever, but the Group C system combined with our county’s insistence on supporting too many senior teams has led to them living in the comfort zone and not facing up to how deep the rot is in the club. Relegation would be a real issue for them in most of our border counties. Only in the Bridge is Doon’s success resented – and more bafflingly still, only in the Bridge is Doon’s success not understood. When they start to look at their own situation rather than define themselves purely by relativity to Doon and Ferbane, only then will they start to develop and possibly get closer to rediscovering the glory days of 1995.

County Watch:
Realistically very little to feature. Donie Claffey still does not look like the county panellist of years gone by, though who knows what changes we’ll see on foot of his wedding this past month? Jason Kelly was their top scorer and main danger man, but still didn’t really feature strongly against either of the above sides – mainly scored well against the cannon fodder. Vinnie Darcy held the defence together well, though remains to be seen if he’d have the tools to deal with smaller faster full forwards than those he met. Paul Deeley, who made several substitute appearances and is still in minor ranks this year will probably be their only inter county representative at any level.

Group C – Erin Rovers/Bracknagh/Daingean:

At the risk of offending supporters of these clubs, Lone Shark feels for the purposes of the conclusion of this review, these clubs need to be grouped together. Without doubt each and all of these clubs have their own diehard supporters, their own utterly committed club members, and most assuredly each have their own panels, that train as hard as anyone for the jersey they pull on. However this is a championship review with Offaly football as a whole in mind rather than any one club – and with that in mind, here’s a direct formline – Rhode, county champions 2004, beat Clara by eight. Clara beat Ferbane by two. Ferbane beat each of these, by an average of ten and no less than eight in any case, all this making Rhode 20 points better. Or, alternatively, Rhode beat Gracefield by 13, who beat Brigid’s by 9 over two games, or 4.5 on average, who beat each of these an average of 8, and no less than 6 - thus making them all 25.5 points worse than Rhode. Now what club official, in any bias, could honestly say that any of these could improve by 25 points and win a county title? Lone Shark understands the allure of senior status, however in recent years the farcical situation has emerged that middling teams are better served by going into group C and coming out with a good run of form and confidence in the players high, as opposed to being in a stronger group. This can be done because the threat of relegation is minimal – all because we persist in giving senior status to clubs like this. Surely each of these clubs would be better served by going into intermediate, and thus both raising the standard at intermediate for all of our players at that level and giving each of these clubs a realistic trophy chance. Erin Rovers flattered to deceive with their early win, but the fact remains none of these three won or drew any match against any of the other three decent but not spectacular teams in the group. Indeed in those nine games, only once was the margin of victory less than six points. While not necessarily blaming the “weaker group” system in and of itself, surely twelve teams is a more sustainable number of senior football clubs in Offaly going forward. Then we will al be spared the nonsense of teams starting a club championship freely available in our largest national bookmaker at prices of 100/1 or bigger.

County Watch:
Further to illustrate the point, no player from any of these clubs could claim to be a county contender in 2005.

With all that said, and glossing over the current turmoil in the county for the purposes of this article, the year was still relatively good for Offaly football. Some new talent was unearthed, most notably David Egan and James Keane, and our county champions will go into the winter with a fine chance of flying the county flag well. Lone Shark will be in attendance for their campaign, and we hope you will too!

See you on the terraces...

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